JUST LAST WEEK, HILLARY CLINTON ANNOUNCED her new racial justice platform with this speech in Harlem, Bernie Sanders released his racial justice platform last August.
It’s refreshing to see these candidates finally acknowledge racial inequality as a legitimate issue, a perspective that a Pew research study found that 61% of Democrats agree with. Previously, candidates would often call issues of racial inequality only by its symptoms: “poverty”, “educational inequality,” etc. But by not admitting the underlying structure behind these issues in the past, candidates failed to validate the experiences of people of color in the U.S.
There’s too much research confirming the prevalence of systemic racism in this country to justify not calling the issue what it is. Here are some examples of these systemic racial issues that the Democratic candidates now acknowledge:
The Sanders Platform:
1. The disproportionate police brutality towards people of color
Sanders argued this issue is even worse than what we see on TV:
“We should not fool ourselves into thinking that this violence only affects those whose names have appeared on TV or in the newspaper. African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.
…African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. This is an unspeakable tragedy.
2. The prison rates of people of color as “not reflective of increased crime by communities of color, but rather a disparity in enforcement and reporting mechanisms.”
“Blacks are imprisoned at six times the rate of whites and a report by the Department of Justice found that blacks were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop, compared to white motorists. Together, African-Americans and Latinos comprised 57 percent of all prisoners in 2014, even though African-Americans and Latinos make up approximately one quarter of the US population.
..We must address the lingering unjust stereotypes that lead to the labeling of black youths as “thugs” and “super predators.” We know the truth that, like every community in this country, the vast majority of people of color are trying to work hard, play by the rules and raise their children. It’s time to stop demonizing minority communities.
3. The terrorism towards people of color from extremists in the US.
“Today in America, if you are black, you can be killed for getting a pack of Skittles during a basketball game. Or murdered in your church while you are praying.
…These hateful acts of violence amount to acts of terror. They are perpetrated by extremists who want to intimidate and terrorize black, brown and indigenous people in this country.”
4. Voter discrimination and disenfranchisement
“In 2012, African-Americans waited twice as long to vote as whites. Some voters in minority precincts waited upwards of six or seven hours to cast a ballot. Meanwhile, thirteen percent of African-American men have lost the right to vote due to felony convictions.
Yet in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the seminal Voting Rights Act, even while saying “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.” This should offend the conscience of every American.
5. The hypocrisy and racial bias of the War on Drugs
“For decades, we have been engaged in a failed “War on Drugs” with racially-biased mandatory minimums that punish people of color unfairly. It is an obscenity that we stigmatize so many young Americans with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy. This must change.
6. The racial bias of our education systems
“Black children, who make up just 18 percent of preschoolers, account for 48 percent of all out-of-school suspensions before kindergarten. We are failing our black children before kindergarten. Black students are expelled at three times the rate of white students. Black girls are suspended at higher rates than all other girls and most boys.”
“…Black students attend schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers when compared with white students. Black students are more than three times as likely to attend schools where fewer than 60 percent of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.”
7. The racial bias of economic opportunity
“The black unemployment rate has remained roughly twice as high as the white rate over the last 40 years, regardless of education. Real African-American youth unemployment is over 50 percent. African-American women earn 64 cents for every dollar white men make. This is unacceptable. The American people in general want change — they want a better deal. “
The Clinton platform didn’t acknowledge nearly as much as the Sanders platform did. Yet her campaign did contribute these other important issues to the discussion:
1. The racial bias of environmentalism
“Clean air and clean water are basic human rights—they shouldn’t vary between ZIP codes. Yet, too many children in low-income housing are exposed to lead, African American children are twice as likely to suffer from asthma as white children, half of Latinos live in areas where the air quality does not meet EPA’s health standards—and climate change will put vulnerable populations at even greater risk.”
2. Our country’s long history of racial discrimination in housing policy
“Centuries of housing discrimination have excluded people of color from the mainstream mortgage market and cut families off from communities with high-performing schools, safe streets, and good-paying jobs.”
3. The racial impact of gun control
“Gun violence is the leading cause of death for young African American men—more than the next nine leading causes combined.”
Though it’s exciting to see these candidates acknowledge these issues now, with the alarming statistics and research illustrating the severity of racial justice in this country, it’s disappointing that this was not an initial priority of their campaigns. These platforms came only after weeks of dedicated and strategic work by racial justice activists, particularly those involved in the Black Lives Matter Movement. When BLM activists disrupted a Bernie Sanders speech last summer, he released his racial justice platform on his website just days later. It took almost half a year later for Hillary Clinton to release hers.
This reflects the general disparity between the perception of racism in this country by white citizens versus people of color: Colorlines reported a poll that asked whether blacks and whites have the same chance for equal justice under the law. Half of white respondents said yes, while only 11% of black respondents did. When asked specifically about whether black and white people receive equal treatment with regards to police, 42% of whites agreed, while only 8% of blacks did.
Many white Americans seem to still believe the work of racial justice activists is an overreaction, instead of confronting the facts. At the same time, they disregard the immense work racial justice activists have done to convince others that their cause is legitimate. When Black Lives Matter released their policy platform, the The Nation commended it by saying the platform was a “thoroughly researched, comprehensive, and transformative set of proposals for not only reducing the presence and impact of police and prisons in black communities, but for strengthening those communities through public investment.” The Nation also remarked, “Not only that, it provides blueprints for campaigns that could be successful in achieving these goals.” Black Lives Matter has also been repeatedly commended for their leadership structure, once even by famous activist Gloria Steinem. In her interview for Elle magazine, Steinem said she uses the organizing values from the movement in her own reflections of what activism should look like:
“When I’m talking to people, I find myself quoting the three organizing rules of Black Lives Matter…The first one is lead with love. The second is low ego, high impact. The third is move with the speed of trust. I must say those make me feel very hopeful for the future.”
And yet, Colorlines reported the results of a poll that found that 40% of white Americans thought Black Lives Matter was “just a slogan” and not the formal, organized, and progressive movement it actually is.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, there’s no acknowledgement of racial justice as an issue at all. One survey found that only 41% of Republicans feel that racism is a legitimate issue in this country. Even more egregious, white respondents in another survey said racism against white people is a bigger problem than racism for black people. The Trump campaign’s encouragement of racial slurs and racial violence has shown that the party is more supportive of racism than ever before: when a Trump supported physically attacked a Black Lives Matter protester at one his rallies, the candidate simply responded by saying “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”
With that as comparison, the steps made by the Democratic candidates are hopeful. But they also feel long overdue. In 2016, we shouldn’t have to be working towards making systemic racism legitimized. All politicians should already be admitting issues of racial inequality exists. Politicians should actively strive to include racial justice in their discussions of broader issues plaguing the U.S.and validate the hard work by people on the ground already working for change.